Casual Dining Group acquires La Tasca

By Mark Wingett

- Last updated on GMT

La Tasca is now part of Casual Dining Group
La Tasca is now part of Casual Dining Group

Related tags La tasca Tapas Brand

Casual Dining Group (CDG), the Café Rouge and Bella Italia operator, has completed its second significant deal in the sector in under two months, after agreeing to acquire La Tasca, the c40­strong Spanish tapas chain, in a deal valued at between £20m­ and £25m.

According to BigHospitality's sister publication M&C Allegra Foodservice The Steve Richards-­led group, which acquired Las Iguanas in a c£85m deal last month​, has reached an agreement to acquire La Tasca from backer Kaupthing.

The deal, which M&C flagged up last month, increases CDG’s UK-­wide footprint to 280 restaurants.

Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of La Tasca, who has overseen two years of continuous sales and EBITDA growth at the brand, is set to stay with the business and said he was looking forward to helping guide it through its next stage of development.

 The acquisition comes as CDG sets about delivering its organic growth plan which will see 52 major refurbishments completed on its existing estate within the next six months and 30 new restaurants opened within the next 12 months.

Beyond this it is thought to have a strong pipeline of new openings in place across leisure parks, shopping and travel hubs and prime high street locations.

Richards said: “We are pleased to have been able to conclude the purchase of La Tasca; the business operates in some excellent locations and this acquisition strengthens our high street portfolio of restaurants.” Wilkinson said: “La Tasca has a strong core of high performing sites and I’m pleased the business has found a good home with CDG. I look forward to helping guide the business through its next stage of development.”

CDG was advised by AlixPartners and La Tasca by BDO. 

Comment by M&C editor Mark Wingett: 

Over eight years have passed, but La Tasca finally finds itself as a stable mate of Café Rouge and Bella Italia, but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Robert Tchenguiz’s R20 outbid Tragus to take the c70­strong chain private in a £123m deal.

Four years on from demerging into a standalone business and three on from a CVA that saw it shed 16 sites, the brand, thanks to Simon Wilkinson and his management team is in the best shape it has been in a long time, the question now is what future does CDG see for it?

For the moment it will be business as usual. Wilkinson deserves a lot of credit for having brought a broken business back from the brink of extinction and placed it on an even keel and, where investment has taken place, growth.

Under his leadership, the group overhauled its menus, ditched frozen foods, made meals more authentic by working with Spanish suppliers and ditched discounting.

There is a good core to the business and the group has some fantastic locations, Cardinal Place in London’s Victoria to name an obvious one.

Around the acquisition of Las Iguanas there was talk of new openings, the ability to grow the brand to c150 sites and maybe explore an international play in time. CDG is certainly being more cautious with its latest acquisition, which cements its position as the UK’s leading privately-­owned casual dining business.

One that now has a small footprint in the US, with La Tasca still operating three sites Stateside.

Many will see the deal as a site play by CDG and you couldn’t argue with the fact that a number of La Tasca’s sites would do equally well or not better under its new owner’s other brands. On the flip side of that argument is that there is still a gap in the market place for a national chain of Spanish-­led restaurants.

Despite the progress of the likes of Brindisa, Tapas Revolution and Iberica, La Tasca is still best placed to fill that gap. The fact that it has a stable and experienced management team already in place, which is now coupled with a new owner with deep pockets places a question mark over the former argument.

 Perhaps it will be a combination of both approaches with just some tinkering around the edges. CDG has the benefit of operating a multi­site business with two current growth brands in Bella Italia and Las Iguanas and a third which is set to return to site growth, in Café Rouge, giving it options in terms of the route it wants to explore and time in which to make that decision.

 The options provided by La Tasca made the business an attractive proposition for private equity and trade players alike, including Hugh Osmond, during its sales process. Whether Wilkinson stays with CDG long term, and he has worked well under Richards before, or not, his work with La Tasca will also not have gone unnoticed by private equity houses wanting to enter the market with a new management team or established brands looking for a new direction under a proven operator.

 Earlier this summer, La Tasca launched a next generation brand design at its Covent Garden. The company said it would consider rolling out the new look after a “good few months of assessing it”. That site could be seen as a microcosm of where CDG sits on the future of its latest acquisition. At present it is business as usual, but at some point a decision will have to be made on whether it will be an expansion or conversion play, or even a bit of both. Time for some (small) plate spinning. 

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